The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to take a call by April 30 on Balwant Singh Rajoana's mercy petition, filed in 2012, seeking commutation of his death penalty to life imprisonment in the former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh assassination case.

The Apex Court said that if the decision is not taken by April 30, the Secretary concerned of Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Director (Prosecution), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) shall remain personally present, along with the records, before it on the next date of hearing.

A Bench of Justice UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice PS Narasimha, which was hearing a petition by Rajoana, said that despite earlier orders of the court nothing has been done in the matter and the counsel appearing for the Union of India has no clear instructions.

The Action Taken Report and the decision in terms thereof shall be placed on record of this case on or before April 30, 2022, failing which the concerned Secretary, Department of Home Affairs, Government of India, and the Director (Prosecution), CBI shall remain personally present along with the concerned record in the Court on the next occasion, it said.

Noting the previous orders passed by the court where the Centre had sought time, the bench said that in the circumstances, it directs that the matter shall immediately be looked into by authorities, including the Government of India and the CBI.

It said that the proposal or the objection to the prayer for commutation shall be made by the CBI within two weeks.

The appropriate authority in the central government shall bestow attention and take the required decision within two weeks of the receipt of the proposal or objection from the CBI, it said in its order passed on Friday.

The Bench listed the matter for further hearing on May 2.

In its order, the court noted that for having assassinated the then Chief Minister of Punjab in 1995, Rajoana, along with co-accused, was tried in respect of offences punishable under Sections 302/307/120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Sections 3 and 4 of the Explosive Substances Act.

It said that after recording conviction under the said offences, the trial court sentenced Rajoana and co-accused, Jagtar Singh Hawara to death.

It must be noted here that the petitioner (Rajoana) had not challenged his death sentence nor had he preferred any appeal from the decision of the trial court , the Bench said.

It added that the High Court found substance in the appeal preferred by the co-accused Hawara and substituted the death sentence to imprisonment for life, but the order of conviction and sentence as awarded to the petitioner was affirmed by the High Court.

It said that insofar as the conviction and sentence awarded to the co-accused Jagtar Singh Hawara is concerned, Criminal Appeal at his instance along with other connected matters is pending consideration in this court.

During such pendency, a letter was written by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India on September 27, 2019 to the Chief Secretaries of the Governments of Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka and NCT of Delhi on the occasion of the commemoration of 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji proposing special remission and release of prisoners , it said.

The writ petition before the Apex Court alleges inaction on part of the authorities in not commuting the death sentence awarded to Rajoana in keeping with the said communication dated September 27, 2019.

It is in this light that the present writ petition prays that the mercy petition preferred by the petitioner on March 25, 2012 be taken up for disposal immediately and his death sentence be commuted to imprisonment for life, the Bench said.

It said that, notably, the prosecution was conducted by the CBI and as such, the authority to consider the issues regarding commutation and remission would be the central government.

It noted the submission of advocate Ranjeeta Rohatgi, appearing for the Punjab government that the offence was committed in the UT of Chandigarh where the trial was also conducted, Rajoana has been lodged in a jail in Punjab under the orders of the High Court and that the state government has nothing to do with respect to the relief prayed for in the petition.

Earlier, the Court had questioned the Centre over the delay in sending a proposal to the President for commuting the death sentence of Rajoana.

It had asked the government to apprise it when the authorities concerned will send the proposal to the President under Article 72 of the Constitution. The article deals with the power of the President to grant pardon, suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.

Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, was convicted for his involvement in an explosion outside the Punjab civil secretariat that killed Beant Singh and 16 others on August 31, 1995.

The Apex Court has been hearing Rajoana's plea, filed in 2020, seeking commutation of death sentence to life term on the grounds that he has been in jail for 25 years.

A special court had in July 2007 awarded the death sentence to Rajoana in the case.

With PTI inputs